Home Masthead Um Abraço Pra Claudio: An Interview with Claudio Roditi

Um Abraço Pra Claudio: An Interview with Claudio Roditi

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There are some human beings – people, not only musicians – whom you can never forget. They grace your life seemingly because somehow, by some happy coincidence, you were destined to cross paths with them. Claudio Roditi was one of those people who “happened” to me. And now he’s gone; snatched away by a wretched disease that has claimed the best of us. But he will never be forgotten because through his music – and more especially, because of the kind of human being he was – he made life not only more livable but infinitely more joyful. His life and mine crossed paths several times. On one such occasion in 2014 I interviewed him. Here’s how things unfolded…

My palms are wet, but I am not nervous—just uncontrollably excited to be talking with Claudio Roditi, an iconic figure in music. With Brasilian guitarist, Ricardo Silveira and percussionist Duduka da Fonseca, another Brasilian and long-time resident of the Big Apple, Roditi is a seminal figure in the pursuit of a rare idiom in music. Some call it Samba Jazz. If that was meant to conjure images similar to Latin Jazz it certainly goes a long way in to putting the sound into a rather straight jacketed perspective. What would be more appropriate should have been a term like Afro-Cuban music. That term has color and suggests a whole palette of sounds. Musica Brasileira- Jazz somehow does it better. It suggests a complete setting; the feelings and emotions of saudade and alegria that are at the heart of and course through the music called choro and disappear under the surface of the broad palette of sounds—not just rhythms—but sounds and silence of both urban and pastoral Brasil.

Claudio-Roditi-SympaticoThis really is what Claudio Roditi brought to the idiom of jazz, melded it in, blending the shuffle of samba with the swagger of swing, pouring in molten emotion from a heart and soul filled with music. It is what I saw when I went back to one of my favourite images of the musician. This appears on the film version of Dizzy Gillespie’s United Nations Orchestra, one of the last great big bands to grace our planet. This is the fabled performance of Dizzy’s great band at the Royal Festival Hall, London on June, 10, 1989. There are many occasions to gasp in wonder. One sticks in my memory: Dizzy kicks off the set with a rousing version of “Tin Tin Deo” and it is time for the formidable trumpet section to get into the act. The section comprises its leader, the great Dizzy himself, Arturo Sandoval, playing both trumpet and piccolo trumpet and Roditi. The next track is D’Rivera’s “Seresta” and Paquito holds court. His solo is timed for last, after Diz’s wild romp all over the horn, the voice cracking with characteristic Dizzyness and after Sandoval’s pyrotechnics on his trumpet. Roditi returned to solo on “A Night in Tunisia.” Here he captures not only the romance and magical mystery of the North African destination, but also its complex rhythms. It is easy for him. He is Brasilian, of course. Roditi also features prominently in the triangular conversation at the end of the song.

Claudio Roditi 2As his turn arrives, Roditi stands, closes his eyes and breathes softly as he sets a blue flame to the embouchure, that blows out gingerly but with spectacular loops and pirouettes. The musical whorl unfolds with the sensational cold fire that Claudio Roditi has been known for. He shuffles the notes, weaving in and out of phrases and lines that suggest a Brasilian twist to the song. The track is Paquito D’Rivera’s “Samba for Carmen” and soon Roditi is in a three-way conversation with Paquito, Slide Hampton, who joins in and himself. Just when the musicians are getting comfortable with that bag, he switches almost unnoticed into a wide, swinging mode, soaring as if chasing one note after the other that escapes the bell of his horn, flying high and mighty. Through all this his eyes are shut as if he were in a gently swinging trance. He might have been. The music more than suggests it—that Musica Brasileira- jazz, picked up with swelling polyrhythm by the other Brasilian in the band, percussionist, Airto, who shuffles his gongs, pandeiro, and rubs his cubical. But Claudio Roditi’s eyes remain closed. Saudade, e paz e alegria…

This is what I hear in Claudio Roditi’s voice… peace, longing and joy. Nothing has changed since then. I expect that nothing will as I dial the number given me for his home in New Jersey. The phone rings and a soft male voice says “Hello…” as if singing a song.

“Claudio..?” I ask… “Yeah,” he answers, and now it’s his turn… “Raul? Contente…Prazer em conhecê-lo…” he continues. I ask to continue in English, always embarrassed by my watered down, Anglo Portuguese accent. He agrees.

Claudio-Roditi-BrazillianceI feel I know his music better than I know him when I call, so my aim is to get to know him. What made him come to the United States and stay for so long? Most Brasilians do not. Their longing for Brasil is too much to keep them away from that country for too long. Their connection is umbilical and that chord is never cut. Something else is mystifying. I have just heard his new album and it is one full of his songs. I believe that he is a marvellous composer. He just does not know that. Either this or perhaps he does not think so himself. I want to know more about this and as it relates to his album, Simpatico I hope that we’ll talk about that too. And of course I will ask about Brazilliance x 4. That is an album that gets regular airplay at my house. The groove is hypnotic and exhilarating.

I can hardly wait. I jump right in. “Well, Claudio, let me begin by asking you when you came to the United States and how did you decide to come here?” I ask.

His answer is somewhat oblique, like the way he attacks a solo—inside out: “It was sometime in the mid-60’s… I had always loved to play jazz and there were very few people who were playing it in those days. Remember these were the heady days of Bossa Nova…. I mean don’t get me wrong. I love Bossa… I was playing that too, but…” his voice trails off for a bit as if he is nostalgic… “But I was crazy about jazz… I heard Dizzy Gillespie, Miles, Clifford Brown, Lee Morgan—a particular favourite of mine—in fact they say I remind them of him…” he adds. “Who is ‘they’? “I ask…

“Critics… writers…” he says with a short laugh. I am just glad that I did not suggest anything like this. Of course, I also believe that while his approach may be like Clifford Brown, or even Fats Navarro, a sliding type of attack…legato and even slurred, as well as more deeply intoned notes, unlike the dazzling, sharp brightness of, say Dizzy, even Miles…

I let that go… perhaps I will bring it up later… and wait for him to continue.

“As I was saying,” he continues, when I stop pontificating, “In 1966, I took a trip to Austria to attend a jazz camp and I ended up staying there for a year. This trip was one of the most meaningful for me. I got to play with some fine guys there. There were no restrictions… I was in heaven… I was playing trumpet there and then I met Art Farmer, a great guy and a great horn player. He was playing the much softer, flugelhorn and I loved the sound. It was then, with Art’s encouragement that I took up the flugelhorn.

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